Slice of Life Tuesdays: Outliers

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Slice of Life Small LogoOutliers

Several days ago, I wanted a snack. I grabbed a bag of M & Ms my daughter and I had purchased earlier that day. I sat at the computer to browse, and poured some candy out of the bag, on to the desk — carefully, so they wouldn’t roll off on to the floor where the dog was anxiously waiting (chocolate is bad). The most amazing thing happened! I looked closely, noticing the color arrangement and the way the chocolate pieces followed each other out of the wrapping. Weird! Amazing! Beautiful! Really…I couldn’t believe it. I took out my phone and snapped a picture to prove to myself that it happened.

MandMLines

Today my daughter and I went out again. This time we actually needed a hair dryer, but you know…late night snack cravings…so I got another bag of M & Ms. I wanted to recreate that moment of discovery and watch again for the candy to spill perfectly out on the desk. Of course, that didn’t happen. But I did notice  something just as beautiful, amazing, and weird. The second that I saw it, I thought, “Outliers!” M & M candy outliers were just as cool and colorful as the straight-line ones from last week.

MandMOutliers

Then I thought, “What a way to smack me in the face with a writing idea!” It’s true, once you start looking closely and notice your surroundings, the more creative you can be. See, those M & Ms — arranged differently on different days — made me think of students at school.

There are the perfect students: “Line up!” and they just seem to do what they need to do. Easy, straightforward, conforming. Opposite of those children are the outliers: “Line up!” and they wander around the back of the room, looking for supplies, talking, and needing that extra push to comply with the simple request.  Difficult, wavering, non-conforming. But they are one in the same! Same students, same class. Some days are easy, others are not. But life is never boring with these little lovelies.

Funny how M & Ms can make you a writer.

Day 13: SOLSC Slice of Life Story Challenge

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Inspiration

In our Language Arts cross-grade level meeting this afternoon, we discussed the week’s standardized testing experience. One comment that stuck with me was this:  students who read a lot seemed to do well on the writing part of the test. I thought, “Yes, that simple idea makes so much sense.” One strategy that we want to keep in mind for next year’s curriculum is to use more mentor texts in the classroom. Immerse the students in different types of model texts, teaching them what we want them to understand using authentic means, and they will have a better opportunity to merge what they learn into their own writing.

I’ve used mentor texts for years. Each workshop or class I attend, I bring back ideas, check book list suggestions, and stock my shelves (at home and at school!) with reading that will model what I want the students to do when they write. My minilessons always spiral throughout the year: “Remember when we learned to use alliteration? Hey, look! Here’s another author who knows that trick!” (I make sure I identify my students as authors — they are!) Using mentor texts is a research-based, best-practice strategy for guiding students to write future best-sellers. Mentor authors help children build confidence. Mentors show children how the experts use the tools, tricks, and knowledge available to them when they write. Mentor writers are life-long readers and researchers themselves, the roles that we want children to take as they work through their writing.

Who hasn’t been inspired at one point or another by a painting, sculpture, musical score, or book? You know you have. You say to yourself, “I can do that.” Mentor texts inspire children to write like the experts. They can do that, too!

Disclaimer: This blogger does NOT using reading texts merely to teach reading or writing standards in the classroom. People should read for many reasons, not the least of which is to ENJOY reading!  Please do not tear apart mentor texts until students do not recognize them for what they truly are — wonderful reading material. My daughter and I once talked about author’s purpose. She said, “Authors don’t sit around and write to teach you about imagery (or making predictions, or identifying character traits, or anything else!). They just write, and you buy the book because you want to read it.

WFMAD Challenge: Thinking about Consistency in Classrooms

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I’ll just jump right in; it’s late! I’ve been thinking about consistency in classrooms. I know (prior knowledge, research, communication with others) that consistency is key in classroom management, and I have found this short school week that consistency does play a key role in lowering stress for classroom teachers…eventually.

The stress level has been high (!) this school year, with getting to know new students, planning again, standing up all day again (tired feet!), and one of my goals is being more consistent and less flexible with my expectations for students.  High expectations = High achievement.  I followed my plan to a “T” this week, and today was a wonderful Friday, full of learning! My students behaved and were engaged in the learning. They seemed to take pride in their work, and I observed them working together well, communicating politely, and getting the job done. I was even surprised with some of the scores on my formative reading assessment; students were achieving higher scores than I expected. The week was full of stress: calling parents, writing notes for documentation, talking to the administrators. As frustrating as the week was, and as much as I wanted to assume the role of “nice guy,” I did not give in. I was consistent and expected the best. I even said to a colleague Friday morning, “No!” when she asked how I felt about having a Friday free time session. “They don’t deserve it,” I noted. Now next week, after staying consistent with practicing procedures and expecting high achievement, I hope to say, “Yes! Let’s have some fun! We’ve worked hard all week.”

Staying consistent with practicing the classroom ways and holding my students to higher standards was rewarding for me this week because even though I was the “mean, bad guy,” (Oh, man! Hey! I’m not a man. Stop it!) my students quickly changed their behaviors to comply with those standards, and they even noticed improvements and received rewards! One student even said, “You’re giving us a compliment? (Yes!) Well, I’ll be good more often now!” It seemed like we were practicing too much before this week. I remembered that the first few weeks of school are rough, and teachers assume that practicing procedures a few times will be enough for the students. But just like fluency research states that students must read a text about 7 times to be fluent readers, students must also practice other tasks several times to succeed.  (Got some reading research in there!)

I found that sticking to my plan, and “sticking to my guns” helped all of us. We were all calm, relaxed, and ready for the tasks at hand. Consistency pays off!

Have a great weekend!

Getting into the Routine(s)

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Routines are required because routines are reassuring.

Routines lead to relaxing and getting down to work without distractions. Or trouble.

 Teachers teach procedures and routines in the first weeks of school so that students can have order and consistency in their lives, so they can feel successful, and so they can learn to get down to business without worrying about the small stuff. Don’t sweat the small stuff (they say). Having routines makes life easier – really! Students know where to turn in homework, when to go to their lockers, and how to get to the lunchroom independently when teachers help them to learn the daily procedures. Harry and Rosemary Wong even wrote about it in The First Days of School. But I’m finding more and more that teachers need the procedures and routines just as much as the students.

(The following is a personal story that is meant to show how teachers need routines just as much as students. Thank you for allowing me to share.)

As a “veteran” teacher, I’m supposed to know how to teach content, manage my classroom, and manage my time. Daily tasks such as taking attendance, transitioning to the related arts classes, and end-of-day dismissal procedures need to be taught, practiced, and mastered by staff and students alike. I’m still learning. Nowhere near mastery yet. Even though I’m supposed to know. Here’s what I learned today:

When you assign lunch detention, the acceptable procedure is to keep students in the classroom for up to ten minutes, and then allow them to move to the lunchroom to eat. Ten minutes is plenty of time – all you have to do is walk down the hallway – to get to the cafeteria. Well…I released the students within the acceptable time frame, but I also directed them to follow the noon procedure of changing books for the afternoon and they traveled to their lockers, and got to lunch really late! Oh, my! Following procedures and routines, and then changing them without practicing the change, may lead to greater stress for everyone involved. It sure didn’t make my lunchtime relaxing.

Teachers, remember to practice the routines for your own well-being as well as for your students’ peace of mind. Write your routines down and follow them as you have recorded. Also write down any changes or predicted flexibility that may be ahead. Practice the changes, as well. (“When you have lunch detention, you need to…”) Then, you can be reassured, relaxed, and get your work done, too! And maybe even stay out of trouble.

Hey, you worked really hard all week, so take Monday off.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend!

Student Engagement…Defined?

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Administrators are looking for engaging lessons. Outside observers are looking for engaging activities. Teachers want engaging activities for their students. “Engaging” – a buzzword in education, to be sure.  What is “engaging” in classrooms, anyway?

The dictionary defines engaging as an adjective meaning charming and attractive. Hmm. Are lessons not engaging because I don’t write neatly on the chalkboard? Am I not dressed attractively enough to engage my students in the learning? Am I not charming enough? I tried synonyms for engaging: winsome, fetching, alluring. Now I’m supposed to be Prince Charming to be engaging? How am I ever going to get my students to learn anything? Then I changed my search to “student engagement in education.”

According to Chapman (2003), “the term ‘student engagement’ has been used to depict students’ willingness to take part in routine school activities, such as attending classes, submitting required work, and following teachers’ directions in class.” In my search to define student engagement, I also found Skinner and Belmont’s more comprehensive definition (1993): “[Students] who are engaged show sustained behavioral involvement in learning activities accompanied by a positive emotional tone. They select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.”  If students are engaged in lessons because they choose to select activities, initiate action, exert effort, and show positive emotions, then how can teachers help them to choose these desired behaviors? Is it really a “dog and pony show?” I say, “No.”

My continued goal is to implement engaging activities where students choose to act, exert effort, and show positive emotions during the school day. I made a list of Dos and Don’ts to guide me in my journey:
DO                                                                                                     DON’T
use activity and movement in the classroom                 use worksheets to teach
show students how exerting effort leads to success      assign “busy work” I won’t grade
set the purpose for each lesson/activity/reading            sit down at my desk and watch students
communicate clearly                                                     tell students to “figure it out” themselves
create choices                                                                assign every student the same work
show positive emotions about learning                         give the “evil eye” to students
give opportunities of time to learn                                 hurry students to get the work done

Some of these Dos and Don’ts may seem vague or uncertain (of course I’m going to give the “evil eye” to a student who is wasting time, but only after I have clearly taught the procedures, lesson scaffolds, etc. and he/she is still not exerting effort to get the task done), but it’s a starting list for me to remember to be engaging in the classroom.

What is your definition of student engagement? How will you teach engaging lessons this school year? It’s almost time to start!

Chapman, E. (2003). “Alternative approaches to assessing student engagement rates.”Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8(13).

Skinner, E.A., & Belmont, M.J. (1993). “Motivation in the classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across the school year.” Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4). p. 572.

 

Sharing: Art in the Classroom

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Here’s another one of my teacher friends I respect and admire, and she’s an artist! Julie has created a blog to chronicle her life as an art teacher in a large, urban school district. Check out her post, “God in the Art Studio,” and then consider your practice. I love reading about students who are this excited about learning and sharing their learning with others!

http://choosingchoice.blogspot.com/